"For anyone who has ever wondered: What ever happened to . . . you know, that guy who wrote . . . ? Weber’s Consuming Silences has an answer. This deliciously nasty study dissects why and how authors create ‘careers of silence,’ sustaining reputations for decades without publishing anything new. Weber takes as his starting point the poststructuralist contention that the author is dead and considers a seeming oxymoron: the silent author. If the author is merely a function, a social construct, then why bother actually writing books? All one needs is a deft pedagogical flair, instructing readers and critics in the methods of reading silence as a literary work. Clawing away layers of self-fashioning that often result in a cult of admiration for the ‘suspended author,’ Weber debunks the saga of Tillie Olsen’s ‘silences,’ Henry Roth’s ‘literary comeback,’ the stubborn reclusiveness of J. D. Salinger, and Ralph Ellison’s masterful invisibility. He argues that not writing, rather than alerting us to deep psychological pain, may, instead, be a shrewd career move. In an era of instant celebrity and endless publicity, Weber takes seriously the public sources—reviews, lectures, interviews, as well as scholarship—that sustain and circulate long-term narratives of deferred authorship. It turns out we’re all guilty of conspiring to shut up some of the twentieth century’s most recognized writers. Moreover, far from suffering, their reputations grow with each agonizing reminder of failure. Like Kafka’s Hunger Artist sustained by his professional fasting, these silent writers say something about our literary vampirism. We cannot get enough of what we are refused. What is to be done? Authors, put down that pen, and read!"
—Paula Rabinowitz, author of Black & White & Noir: America’s Pulp Modernism
"[a] fresh and exciting study . . . Consuming Silences is one of the most enjoyable critical books I have read in some time. Refreshingly free of the jargon of literary criticism, Weber's slim book is both theoretically savvy and delightfully accessible. Startling, challenging, and rewarding, Consuming Silences helps us rethink what we thought we knew about authors and literary consumers."
—Virginia Quarterly Review
J. D. Salinger was an author in 1951 when he published The Catcher in the Rye. Is he one now? Was Henry Roth an author during the sixty years that separated Call It Sleep, his literary debut, from his second novel, Mercy of a Rude Stream? To show us how silence can be produced and consumed as a literary text, Myles Weber takes a provocative look at four revered authors who battled writer’s block or simply ceased publishing. The careers of Tillie Olsen, Henry Roth, J. D. Salinger, and Ralph Ellison suggest that an unproductive twentieth-century author could command serious critical attention and remain a literary celebrity by offering the public volumes of silence, which became read and admired like any other text.
Weber sees periods of nonpublication as texts that are consumed by the literary public--and sometimes produced deliberately by inactive writers and their handlers. However, his aim is not to criticize individual authors but to reveal connections between literature as a commodity and authorship as a profession. As Weber looks at the particular circumstances of each author’s silence, he brings to them an understanding of such topics as the cult of celebrity, intellectual property law, the complicity of the media and the academy in engendering and then maintaining an author’s silence, and mass production and distribution.
By helping us to look in new ways at authorial silence not just as a biographical fact or a creative problem but also as a marketing opportunity, Consuming Silences injects energy into debates about the nature of literary production and the cultural place of authors who do not publish.